I’ve been writing this blog more or less consistently for two and a half years. But I tried blogging before—four times, actually—and it didn’t go so well.
Sometimes it’s good to reflect on failure. It’s an effective way to learn and it feels good to move on from it.
Also, as far as I’m concerned, it’s fun to read about mistakes others made before succeeding. It makes failure seem useful and normal, and I admit that I enjoy the schadenfreude.
So let me tell you about my failed blogging attempts.
DON’T DEPEND ON OTHERS FOR CONTENT.
My first blog was an information sharing blog.
The first lesson I learned was not to depend on other people for a blog’s (or website’s) content. When I was an intern in Nigeria, back in 2008, I wanted to put together a website with information for interns from “western countries” coming to Africa.
The reason behind it was that I didn’t know anything about daily life in Africa before I went there. I created a page for each country and filled it with information and practical tips about lodging, medical care, and transportation.
I was encouraged by the positive reactions I received. Even though the site only contained information on two countries at first, it attracted attention. People even left comments and advice—something I rarely see on my current blog (people send me private messages instead, usually with questions).
But getting information about countries besides Nigeria was tough. I approached interns in other embassies with a list of questions, but getting information from them was like pulling teeth. Some delivered answers, but most didn’t respond or didn’t get around to it.
Another lesson I learned was: something that seems like great idea to me may appear ludicrous to others—or just too much work.
YOU CAN’T DEMAND READERSHIP.
My second blog was a personal blog—diary style.
When I moved all the way to Uruguay for two years, I wanted to soften the blow for my family by starting an online diary. I figured if I shared my thoughts and adventures with them, I wouldn’t seem so far away.
It was 2010 and lots of people had travel blogs. I didn’t follow any of them, but I was somehow convinced that everyone would be interested in reading mine. So I was pretty surprised that after weeks of posting I had almost no page views. And that a few months into it, people would ask me “What’s your blog called again?” or tell me they’d “finally start reading it next weekend.”
The other problem with a diary-style blog is that it quickly becomes too personal. I don’t think blogs are great for sharing intimate details or strong personal opinions. Even besides the security risk, and the limits the State Department places on us, it’s hard to find a balance between being honest and interesting versus sharing too much.
STICK TO WHAT YOU KNOW.
My third blog was a professional expertise blog.
I was in my late 20s when I found my professional calling: migration. I’d analyzed international migration policy for years and worked on human trafficking issues through research and providing legal assistance. I’d even published an article through a renowned migration organization.
I knew I wasn’t a real expert at this point, but I worked on cutting-edge issues (it was the height of the migration crisis in Europe) and met with many experts in the field. I decided to deepen my knowledge of everything that was going on by tracking and organizing it on a blog.
There were several flaws with this idea.
It was tons of work to write interesting posts on migration while also working 60 hours per week. I didn’t have much credibility since I was relatively new in the field. And I don’t think it’s very effective to use blogging as a learning integration tool. Gaining expertise is different from attracting attention, starting a debate, or promoting your work. I wrote only a handful of posts.
Fortunately, the reverse is also true. Writing about something you have lots of experience with is a breeze. Since I finally began writing about diplomatic life my blog almost writes itself (albeit with lots of errors—editing takes up most of my time now!). So stick to what you know!
KEEP IT REAL.
My fourth blog was a lifestyle blog.
Right before I took the Foreign Service exam I went through a period where I didn’t know what I wanted with my life. I’d just become the mother of an adorable son and lived a comfortable life in the Netherlands. Since I loved writing and wanted to improve it I decided to write about my daily life.
I wrote about cooking, traveling, running, and lots of “mom things.” But I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected and couldn’t figure out why.
Looking back at it, the blog didn’t reflect my life at all. Sure, I was a new mom—but I wasn’t thinking about baby classes and cooking all day. What I really thought was: why is it so hard to enjoy spending time with my baby and when am I going to find a job?
WHAT DIPLOMATS DO.
After all the failed attempts I didn’t think I’d start a blog ever again. But I kept on writing about my life and my career anyway because I’ve always needed it as an outlet. So here I am, going at it again. I’ve posted 112 times since 2018 and, to my own surprise, I still enjoy it.
People often comment that my blog looks like a ton of work. They’re only partially right. Yes, I’ve spent some time setting up the blog because the beginning is hard—you have to pick the name, format, pictures, and as many suitable topics as possible (so you don’t run out of inspiration after a few weeks).
But now it doesn’t take much time to keep it up. I only post when I really feel like writing. I don’t worry about what I wrote in the past even though some of it makes me cringe now. I refuse to worry about my mediocre writing skills or the fact that I’m putting myself out there.
It’s funny how quiet people are about reading my blog. My posts rarely get “likes” but I regularly receive personal messages and questions—mostly from aspiring diplomats who find my blog useful. People around me never talk to me about my blog, but my husband tells me “everyone” reads it.
I love receiving comments and questions from readers. I don’t really need a reason to write, but it gives me a boost. Sometimes I peek at the stats: last month I had 6,000 new visitors and 12,000 page views. My readership has doubled since I joined the Foreign Service last year.
Some posts are much more popular than others. My most-visited post (12 ways to work at the embassy) has over 33,000 views. In the beginning I was wondering what I should write to attract more of that kind of attention, but I decided not to worry about it. I just hope to remain a happy blogger for a long time to come.